Road warrior power trip: Mobile workstations worthy of the workstation name
The beefy Dell Precision M6400 and polished HP EliteBook 8730w squeeze high-end graphics and serious horsepower into large but luggable chassis
HP EliteBook 8730w
If the Dell Precision M6400 is the kitchen sink of mobile workstations, then the HP EliteBook 8730w Mobile Workstation is more like a designer culinary studio. Sleeker and more refined than the Dell unit, the HP 8730w suffers from none of the Dell's ergonomic quirks, save for the side-mounted I/O connectors. The case is generally smudge-free and sports well-rounded edges, as well as a more comfortable typing angle than its competitor. It's also a full pound lighter on the shoulder (8.5 pounds as tested), which may be a big deal depending on your usage model. After hauling both units during an extended overseas jaunt, I definitely noticed the difference.
Of course, those weight savings come at a cost in terms of internal expandability. For example, the 8730w supports just the Centrino standard 8GB of RAM -- as opposed to the Dell's mind-bending 16GB. It's also a two-spindle design, meaning that to get RAID-style performance or reliability, you'll have to swap out the media bay drive (a tray-loaded Blu-ray/DVD-RW drive in my test system) for a second hard disk and hang your optical unit off an external adapter cable.
Other standard features include a nearly full-size keyboard with a dedicated numeric keypad and excellent tactile feedback (but no backlighting); an optional integrated Web camera; integrated Gigabit Ethernet and modem ports; three dedicated USB 2.0 ports and one shared USB/e-SATA port; a four-pin FireWire port, compared with the full-size six-pin port on the Dell; and the universally accepted HDMI and RGB D-SUB ports for connecting to an external display.
Like the Dell, the HP offers the Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M (1GB) video card and an LED backlit display option (HP calls it DreamColor) for true 36-bit color support. And, of course, you can choose from the full range of wireless networking options, including the latest Intel 5300 Series 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N card. Other goodies include the now mandatory eight-way SD/Memory card reader and a nifty business card scanner that uses the Webcam and special software to capture information from business cards. And if remote management is required, you'll like that the unit is Intel vPro compliant.
In terms of performance, the HP 8730w lagged behind the RAID 0-configured Dell M6400 in my more disk-intensive tests. For example, when creating a snapshot of a 1GB Windows XP virtual machine under VMware Workstation 6.5.1, the HP took more than twice as long as the Dell, while cloning a VM took 48 percent longer. In the Clarity Studio multiprocess database simulation -- copying several SQL Server tables and running various queries -- the HP took 23 percent longer. And in the Clarity Studio workflow workload -- copying roughly 25MB of mixed message and attachment data from a single source folder to multiple target folders -- the HP trailed the Dell by more than a factor of two.